Ballads

Page 11

Three were the days of his running, as the gods appointed of yore, Two the nights of his sleeping alone in the place of gore: The drunken slumber of frenzy twice he drank to the lees, On the sacred stones of the High-place under the sacred trees; With a lamp at his ashen head he lay in the place of the feast, And the sacred leaves of the banyan rustled around the priest. Last, when the stated even fell upon terrace and tree, And the shade of the lofty island lay leagues away to sea, And all the valleys of verdure were heavy with manna and musk, The wreck of the red-eyed priest came gasping home in the dusk. He reeled across the village, he staggered along the shore, And between the leering tikis crept groping through his door.

There went a stir through the lodges, the voice of speech awoke; Once more from the builded platforms arose the evening smoke. And those who were mighty in war, and those renowned for an art Sat in their stated seats and talked of the morrow apart.

II. THE LOVERS

Hark! away in the woods--for the ears of love are sharp - Stealthily, quietly touched, the note of the one-stringed harp. {2d} In the lighted house of her father, why should Taheia start? Taheia heavy of hair, Taheia tender of heart, Taheia the well-descended, a bountiful dealer in love, Nimble of foot like the deer, and kind of eye like the dove? Sly and shy as a cat, with never a change of face, Taheia slips to the door, like one that would breathe a space; Saunters and pauses, and looks at the stars, and lists to the seas; Then sudden and swift as a cat, she plunges under the trees. Swift as a cat she runs, with her garment gathered high, Leaping, nimble of foot, running, certain of eye; And ever to guide her way over the smooth and the sharp, Ever nearer and nearer the note of the one-stringed harp; Till at length, in a glade of the wood, with a naked mountain above, The sound of the harp thrown down, and she in the arms of her love. "Rua,"--"Taheia," they cry--"my heart, my soul, and my eyes," And clasp and sunder and kiss, with lovely laughter and sighs, "Rua!"--"Taheia, my love,"--"Rua, star of my night, Clasp me, hold me, and love me, single spring of delight."

And Rua folded her close, he folded her near and long, The living knit to the living, and sang the lover's song:

Night, night it is, night upon the palms. Night, night it is, the land wind has blown. Starry, starry night, over deep and height; Love, love in the valley, love all alone.

"Taheia, heavy of hair, a foolish thing have we done, To bind what gods have sundered unkindly into one. Why should a lowly lover have touched Taheia's skirt, Taheia the well-descended, and Rua child of the dirt?"

"--On high with the haka-ikis my father sits in state, Ten times fifty kinsmen salute him in the gate; Round all his martial body, and in bands across his face, The marks of the tattooer proclaim his lofty place. I too, in the hands of the cunning, in the sacred cabin of palm, {2e} Have shrunk like the mimosa, and bleated like the lamb; Round half my tender body, that none shall clasp but you, For a crest and a fair adornment go dainty lines of blue. Love, love, beloved Rua, love levels all degrees, And the well-tattooed Taheia clings panting to your knees."

"--Taheia, song of the morning, how long is the longest love? A cry, a clasp of the hands, a star that falls from above! Ever at morn in the blue, and at night when all is black, Ever it skulks and trembles with the hunter, Death, on its track. Hear me, Taheia, death! For to-morrow the priest shall awake, And the names be named of the victims to bleed for the nation's sake; And first of the numbered many that shall be slain ere noon, Rua the child of the dirt, Rua the kinless loon. For him shall the drum be beat, for him be raised the song, For him to the sacred High-place the chaunting people throng, For him the oven smoke as for a speechless beast, And the sire of my Taheia come greedy to the feast." "Rua, be silent, spare me. Taheia closes her ears. Pity my yearning heart, pity my girlish years! Flee from the cruel hands, flee from the knife and coal, Lie hid in the deeps of the woods, Rua, sire of my soul!"

"Whither to flee, Taheia, whither in all of the land? The fires of the bloody kitchen are kindled on every hand; On every hand in the isle a hungry whetting of teeth, Eyes in the trees above, arms in the brush beneath. Patience to lie in wait, cunning to follow the sleuth, Abroad the foes I have fought, and at home the friends of my youth."

"Love, love, beloved Rua, love has a clearer eye, Hence from the arms of love you go not forth to die. There, where the broken mountain drops sheer into the glen, There shall you find a hold from the boldest hunter of men; There, in the deep recess, where the sun falls only at noon, And only once in the night enters the light of the moon, Nor ever a sound but of birds, or the rain when it falls with a shout; For death and the fear of death beleaguer the valley about. Tapu it is, but the gods will surely pardon despair; Tapu, but what of that? If Rua can only dare. Tapu and tapu and tapu, I know they are every one right; But the god of every tapu is not always quick to smite. Lie secret there, my Rua, in the arms of awful gods, Sleep in the shade of the trees on the couch of the kindly sods, Sleep and dream of Taheia, Taheia will wake for you; And whenever the land wind blows and the woods are heavy with dew, Alone through the horror of night, {2f} with food for the soul of her love, Taheia the undissuaded will hurry true as the dove."

"Taheia, the pit of the night crawls with treacherous things, Spirits of ultimate air and the evil souls of things; The souls of the dead, the stranglers, that perch in the trees of the wood, Waiters for all things human, haters of evil and good."

"Rua, behold me, kiss me, look in my eyes and read; Are these the eyes of a maid that would leave her lover in need? Brave in the eye of day, my father ruled in the fight; The child of his loins, Taheia, will play the man in the night."

So it was spoken, and so agreed, and Taheia arose And smiled in the stars and was gone, swift as the swallow goes; And Rua stood on the hill, and sighed, and followed her flight, And there were the lodges below, each with its door alight; From folk that sat on the terrace and drew out the even long Sudden crowings of laughter, monotonous drone of song; The quiet passage of souls over his head in the trees; {2g} And from all around the haven the crumbling thunder of seas. "Farewell, my home," said Rua.

Ballads Page 12

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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